The acquittal of lawyer Chaudhry Muhammd Naeem and his family accused early this year of the brutal murder of their 12-year old maid Shazia Masih in many ways adds to the risks faced by other domestic workers and especially children working in homes. The sessions court which heard the case in Lahore ruled that the girl had died of natural causes. It based its judgment on the evidence presented before it including a medical report from a local Lahore hospital. The courts of course are bound to go on what is presented before them. We have no way of knowing the accuracy and quality of investigations by police and other findings in the case. However it is apparent that the matter perhaps needed stronger inquiry and a greater desire to obtain justice for the underdog. At the time of the death there had been a public outcry over the death to the maid who it was alleged had died as a result of torture. A campaign by lawyers in favour of the accused appeared to tilt matters his way as far as police were concerned.
More worrying is the plight of all domestic workers across the country. Surveys have found up to 80 per cent of female workers in homes suffer harassment or other forms of abuse. It now seems this occurs not only in the citadels of feudal overlords but also in the residences of educated, and presumably civilized, professionals. Just days ago a horrendous account came forward of another young maid being sacrificed by her employers as part of some bizarre ritual. There is quite obviously a need for laws to better protect domestic workers who are not covered by any regulation or the rules that guarantee at least some rights to workers in other categories. There also needs to be a crackdown against domestic work by children who are least able to protect themselves, to draw attention to their plights and as such have been repeatedly subjected to the most brutal crimes.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 24th, 2010.